Mariah Carey looked like the girl who had it all. As one of the world's most successful female artists, she's sold more than 120 million albums and singles worldwide. She's earned an estimated fortune of £93 million and recently signed on of the biggest-ever recording deals with Virgin, guaranteeing her £60 million for her next three albums. What's more, she's on the brink of launching her Hollywood career, having been cast as the star of two forthcoming films.
But, it seems, success and money haven't brought her happiness. Earlier this month, the pressure of living her life constantly under the spotlight proved too much. She was admitted to a New York clinic having suffered what her US publicist called "a complete emotional and physical breakdown".
Mariah was also said to have attempted suicide, although her publicist strenuously denies this. Reports claimed that Mariah was grief-stricken after breaking up with her boyfriend of three years, Luis Miguel. She later checked out of the hospital and was said to be resting at her mother's home.
Just a few weeks before her breakdown, when we met at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London, Mariah looked every bit of the traffic-stopping superstar. Now known as 'the billion-dollar babe', because her body is said to be insured for that amount, the 5ft 9in singer was tanned and glowing with health. But, as she sat in a darkened room, she admitted to feeling exhausted and desperate to have time to herself. In our exclusive interview, she talked about how the pressured of her demanding schedule were causing her to lose sleep and affecting her personal life.
Mariah got together with Luis who's known as 'the Mexican Elvis' after splitting up with baseball player Derek Jeter, and she hints that the relationship broke down because she had no time to see him. "Right now, I don't even have time for myself. I barely have time to eat. I go to the washroom and people will start pounding on my door saying, 'You're late.' It's that extreme. It's really unfair because if you can't be present for yourself, how can you be present for anybody else?" she asked. "Everyone close to me is just saying, 'We love you and we understand that right now your relationship is with your career.' There is no personal life. Just career at the moment."
She denied that her latest single, Loverboy, was written for Luis, and was reluctant to talk about her relationship with the Latin singer she once called her 'master of surprises'. Although the couple have reportedly split up, Mariah's publicist insists that the relationship isn't 'officially' over, and that Luis is concerned about Mariah's health.
"My new thing is not to talk about my personal life because it always ruins everything," is all a despondent Mariah would say on the subject.
She was last pictured with Luis in April, travelling around Spain aboard a luxury yacht the latest in a string of extravagant presents he lavished upon her. On their first anniversary, he reportedly bought her a £50,000 Bulgari diamond necklace. To celebrate her move from Sony, he's also said to have given Mariah the £1 million bracelet worn by Julia Roberts at the last Oscar ceremony.
Mariah has been working non-stop since she last saw him. After filming Glitter and then Wise Girls back-to-back, she went straight into worldwide album promotion and was due to do post-production work on Wise Girls before travelling all over the world for the premieres of Glitter. She was also said to be lined up to star in the next Bond film.
But it seems that, by focusing on work to the exclusion of everything else, Mariah has driven herself into the ground. The fact that she sleeps for only three hours each night doesn't help. "I've always been an insomniac," she said when we met. "I used to take melatonin to help me sleep. Now I have a masseuse to help me relax or I'll watch a movie I've seen a million times or listen to a gospel song on repeat."
Before her breakdown, Mariah appeared to feel that sleep deprivation and the constant demands on her time were just the price she had to pay for the level of fame she'd achieved. "I do sometimes want a break, but I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I could be working in a factory," she said. "Normal human beings take two weeks' holiday a year and get weekends off, but I guess they don't get some of the other things I have."
Now, as she recuperates in the care of a psychiatrist, she is perhaps reconsidering whether the price she's paid is too high.
When we met she'd just finished filming Wise Girls, due out next year, in which she plays Rachel a feisty New York waitress who deals drugs in a restaurant run by the Mafia.
But she wasn't there to talk about that film. She was wearing a shiny belt which spelt out the word 'GLITTER' in capital letters, and it was no coincidence that this is also the name of the first film in which she takes a starring role. Due for release her in November, the film also stars Melanie B's boyfriend, Max Beesley, and is set in the New York club scene of the early Eighties.
The storyline is loosely autobiographical, in that it follows the fortunes of a mixed-race female singer who is plucked from obscurity and turned into a star. Mariah's own life does have a similar fairy-tale quality to it, but she is keen to point out where the film differs.
Mariah was brought up in a poor neighbourhood in Lond Island, New York, by her mother, Patricia, a white Irish opera singer. Her father, Alfred, who is part-black, part-Latin, left the family home when she was two. Mariah then moved 13 times while she was growing up. The youngest of three children, Mariah is still close to her older brother, Morgan, but refuses to talk about her sister, Allison, who is HIV positive.
In Glitter, Mariah's character, Billie Frank, is taken away from her drug-addict mother at an early age and put into care. "I'm best friends with my mother, so it's quite different," Mariah told me. "But my mother keeps asking me: 'Why are they saying the film is autobiographical? You didn't grow up in a foster home. I've never abandoned you.'
"People said maybe I felt abandoned by my father, but I didn't really. My parents got divorced and that's quite common these days."
Mariah was famously discovered, when she was just 18, by Sony boss Tommy Mottola after she attended a party and slipped a demo tape into his hand. After hearing the tape, Mottola, now 52, signed her to an eight-album deal. He also left his wife and family and married Mariah in 1993.
Mottola took control of Mariah's career and ensured that her first, self-titled album propelled her to the top of the charts, selling more than five million copies and providing her with four number one singles, including Vision Of Love. Subsequent albums Music Box (1993), Daydream (1995) and Butterfly (1997) helped secure Mariah's place in the record books as the best-selling female artist of the Nineties. She has had 15 number one singles in the US more than any other artist except The Beatles and Elvis Presley and in the UK is well-known for hits including Emotions, Without You, Dreamlover and her collaboration with Westlife, Against All Odds.
In Glitter, Mariah's character, Billie Frank, is spotted in a club by a young DJ (Beesley) who recognises her singing talent and helps her to get a break. However, he's not a powerful figure like Mottola. "Billie's relationship with DJ Dice is very different to my own story," said Mariah. "He's not an older, controlling figure. They're working together and both struggling. He's got more power than her because he's a DJ, but at a certain point record executives come into play, and they are the figures in control.
Mariah divorced Mottola in 1998, giving rise to speculation that she felt stifled by his controlling hand in her career. She stayed with Sony until April of this year, when she joined Virgin. The new contract brought her more creative freedom bikini tops and tight hot pants replaced long gowns as wardrobe staples, and her music has much more of a streetwise edge.
Mariah decided to pursue an acting career as another expression of her new-found freedom. "For a long time I wasn't allowed to act not even like myself," she said, presumably referring to her time as Mottola's wife. "This new stage in my life is about freedom and empowerment. It's about fulfilment as a creative person. For a long time I blocked things out because that's the only way I could survive, and you can't do that. Acting has been a freeing experience."
After a small part in the 1999 film The Bachelor, Glitter is Mariah's first starring role. Her new album, out this week, is also called Glitter, and features songs from the soundtrack. "It's kind of 1982 meets 2002," she said. There are covers of Eighties hits, including Didn't Mean To Turn You On, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, as well as the timeless ballads that are her more familiar territory.
If she's fully recovered, Mariah will attend the Los Angeles premiere of Glitter later this month. She is bracing herself for a critical onslaught. "I expect to be criticised just because it's in everyone's nature to criticise someone crossing over into another field," she said. "But I did this for myself and I'm proud of my performance."